Bitter sentiments: Locals disillusioned as irrigation dept fails to restore channel

The washed out Shamozai channel was the lifeline for 90% of the region’s population.


Fazal Khaliq August 23, 2011

SWAT:


Shamozai Irrigation Channel once irrigated 15,000 acres in eight villages, but was completely washed away by the July 2010 floods. The irrigation channel, which was the lifeline for 90 per cent of the population of Shamozai Union Council, could not be restored by the irrigation department.


Local people are appalled by the government and non-government organisations, claiming that their area has been constantly neglected by both. Agriculture is the primary source of income and livelihoods in Swat valley, and after last year’s floods wreaked havoc by wiping out most irrigation channels and leaving thousands of acres barren, poor farmer were left helpless.

Peer Mohammad Khan, an activist of the Shamozai Union Council, bitterly criticised the government and elected bodies for lacking interests in the area. He told The Express Tribune that, “We have been struggling for the restoration of the irrigation channel that supplied water to our villages and orchards, and have approached both, government and non-government organisations a number of times, but apart from a list of hollow promises, no step was taken to address our grievances.”

Khan said they had even contacted the MPA and MNA of the area, but to no avail. “Four months after the floods, when the authorities did not respond, each village donated Rs18,000 for the restoration of electricity lines washed away by the floods.”Khan said the government did not compensate farmers who had suffered heavy losses in the floods. He stated that they had even visited Peshawar to meet the K-P chief minister, but were not given any time.

On the restoration of the Shamozai channel, Irrigation Sub Divisional Officer Bakhtiar Khan said that his department was only mandated to maintain civil irrigation channels, and that even though private channels are not under their jurisdiction, the department had immediately collected data on washed out channels in the area and sent a summary to the government, “However, a decision was taken to restore flood protection walls first."

Private irrigation channels would be restored if half the cost is contributed by local farmers. As most of the farmers are poor and cannot contribute their share, their channels have yet to be restored.”

Fahim Riaz, a local ANP leader, expressing dissatisfaction with his own party, saying, “Damage to the Shamozi channel has caused many problems because farming is the only source of income for people in this area. Restoration of the channel should be an open-and-shut case, but unfortunately our government takes no interest in solving public problems.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2011.

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